Late 1977: The NZ Listener profiles Hello Sailor, an Auckland rock and roll band single handedly regenerating New Zealand’s live pub touring circuit. There’s a great photo. These guys look seriously cool.
Tuesday begins at the almost empty Albion Tavern opposite St Matthew-in-the-City, which is the venue for the first part of the day. Captain Carson has two pints of Guinness and a couple of Jamesons ready. It’s 12.40pm. We talk about Dave. He points out he never heard him ever say a bad word about anyone. I agree.
Nearby, Graham Brazier serenades a group of old friends and his partner Jo. He’s all tight blue jeans and boots, red waistcoat, black suit jacket and full-headed black quiff. Within minutes he’s on his feet, strong-arming a startled young gang prospect. Something about pot it seems. Dragon plays on the house sound system.
A big man close up, and more pirate than singer, he pauses at our table on his way across the road. His friendly punch almost dislodges the Captain from his pint. That hand, the size of a shovel, swallows my lower arm as we shake and exchange condolences.
Early 1982: The Captain Cook, Dunedin: Hello Sailor deliver a blistering set. Dave and Harry play wonderful weaving guitars. Brazier looks bulletproof.
In the Cathedral, heaving with more people than you’d think possible. Harry Lyon introduces and then MCs an afternoon of stories, songs, tears and laughter. Hammond Gamble starts thing by singing ‘Look What Midnight’s Done To Me’. I need a pee before long and end up following Brazier. He swings off the banisters down a flight of white flagstone steps to the loos in the bowels of the church punching the air at the bottom and shouting "Yeah, okay, we can do this."
1992, Lancaster Gate, London: I go to my local for a Friday night pint and there is Mr D. McArtney. We’ve never really spoken but it turns out we’re neighbours. We end up drinking a bottle of Johnnie Walker long into the night.
Each of the band speak. Brazier starts, telling us about the night Dave died on stage, electrocuted at the Shanty Town venue in the early 70s, and how he gave him mouth to mouth and revived him. Dave wrote a hit soon after called ‘I’m In Heaven’. He cries and says “and I’m supposed to be the hard man eh,” before reciting a poem called '1,000 Castanets' about young men like him and Dave going out to play pool and drink jugs in Ponsonby in 1972. It’s a highlight. More tributes follow ... the Captain and I shed a manly tear or two ...
Sailor, minus Dave, play ‘Boat Song’, written by Brazier and previously sung at his brother Timo Shenko and his father’s funerals. It’s quite surreal. The family speak. Up last is Dave’s wife Donna. She tells us she never heard Dave say a bad word about anyone. She tells us Dave could read the wind. She brings the house down.
2007, Ragu Bar, Point Chevalier, Auckland, Barry and Nance’s leaving do: Drinking into the night Dave explains the meaning behind ‘Gutter Black’, referencing Indian guru Meher Baba (Pete Townshend’s life-long inspiration) ... about how our lives run down the river into the sea and start the cycle again. I ask about the term "long wind jammers sailing on the ocean" expecting a reference to a classic 19th Century tall-master trader, he says “nah, it’s just about yachts on the harbour” ...
The plain wooden casket covered in handwritten messages is carried out. It’s a big moment after two hours of high emotion, laughter and tears. Dave McArtney has left the building, so to speak. We go to the Sale Street Bar. Fagan accosts us on the way in full sea-going attire, complete with woolly hat.
Who isn’t here? It’s like a class reunion ... a very old class ... name anyone and you’ll likely see them lurking in a corner or behind a beer gut. Lies are told. Stories are shared. Dave is loved. The Captain and I drink whiskey with old friends.
And then there’s Lisle Kinney ... Hello Sailor’s long lost bass player who “disappeared” and “fell on hard times” decades ago. But here he is, a true gentleman of the road ... we talk for ages ... until Harry Lyon’s young son introduces himself. They’ve never met before and I leave them to it.
2009, The Windsor Castle, Auckland – The Cribs with Johnny Marr: Dave, the best dressed almost-60 rocker in town and the nicest guy on the block. We drink beer and swap stories into the wee small hours. I’m surprised to learn he’s never heard The Smiths.
Getting late ... outside to make a call. The wake is in full flight. Brazier is standing at the gate like an aging Edwardian bouncer, holding court and shaking people’s hands as they leave. Then he’s gone.
And so is Dave...
May 2012, The Whiskey, Ponsonby, Auckland; November 2012, The Power Station, Auckland: Sailor play two of the best swaggering, poetic and genuine NZ rock and roll sets I’ve seen by anyone in years ...
Sitting here, listening to sea shanties sober so far, asked to remember David Ewen (Hook) McArtney.
How do I remember him when I’ll never forget him all of my days laughter shared, stories made and told, no quarter given episodes unfolding a machine gun salvo of memories. No halves taken into consideration.
Enough stream of consciousness ramble ... he was my friend, possibly my best, in fact my best. As W. H. Auden said ‘he was my north, my south, my east, my west, my week-day worst, my Sunday best.
I have saved his life on more than one fateful occasion, in turn he had saved mine. The songs, the co-writes, the rainy days and sultry nights in as many forms of company. Always a thinking man’s musician, the master melodist. The gentleman, with a touch of rouge a smidge of rogue, his red Beatle Boots colourfully kept alive by red (led) house paint, ‘til they, like us all fell to pieces.
The thing was he never alluded to those old boots falling apart, nor drew attention to his own state, he was beautiful, erudite, truthful, ever youthful ... and this man will always miss our 50 plus years together. Love is such a fickle thing unless you hold it by the wing it may fly ...
Graham Brazier – May 2013
Nick Sampson is a Taranaki raised, Auckland based, musician and writer. He was a frontman for the Netherworld Dancing Toys and currently plays with Betty Love Elvis. This story was written for OnePercent Magazine and reprinted with permission.